Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (Video Game)
Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Developed by Frogwares
Published by Focus Home Interactive
I know what you're thinking. Dark has lost it, he's confused. What the hell does Sherlock Frickin' Holmes have to do with horror? Why would I want to play as a prissy English bastard and his tubby comic relief sidekick, traipsing around the garden of some 19th century aristocrat who was found dead in a locked room?
I have one word for you that'll explain everything: CTHULHU.
That's right, this one is far removed from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's body of work, and is lodged directly in the pantheon of our beloved H.P. Lovecraft.
The setup here is simple, yet holds immeasurable promise: what if Holmes, the world's greatest detective, ran across a Cthulhu cult many years prior to the good detective LeGrasse and his adventures detailed in Lovecraft's most famous tale? That's what happens here in The Awakened, and the tale is as good as the game, I'm thrilled to say.
Set years after Holmes' supposed death, we find the master of observation bored and restless at 221B Baker St., lacking a challenge worthy of his mind. A simple and pedestrian case pops up when a local aristocrat finds his manservant missing. The manservant, a Pacific Islander immigrant who had not been in his employ for very long, is more than missing as you discover early in the game. He's been taken, and there is some very interesting evidence at the scene in the form of some disturbing art scratched into the floor of his quarters and a mixture of exotic opiates seemingly designed to bring about hallucinations.
What starts so simply as a manhunt for a kidnapper takes a very dark turn with a shocking discovery at the docks on the Thames of a secret temple with horrific iconography, unknown texts, and a piece of an idol of a tentacled god ... found at the feet of the remnants of a human sacrifice. The horribly mutilated corpse is the beginning of the horror, but not the end by any means.
What follows is a rousing adventure that takes us from the Thames to the continent, then eventually to America and the swamps of Louisiana. Holmes and Watson are eventually immersed deep within the realm of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, forced to reconcile Holmes' firm grounding in reason with things that are far beyond the human mind's ability to comprehend.
The writing here is top notch, as is the voice work. Even minor characters are well written and acted, keeping the player immersed in the story.
The technology involved in the game is also fairly revolutionary. Yes, this is an adventure game, with an inventory, conversation trees, and key hunts. However, it's far from the standard point-and-click affair. The game uses a fairly advanced 3D engine, including Havok physics. While it includes standard logic puzzles and pixel hunts, it also uses physics-based puzzles as well as some real-time challenges similar to what one might see in an FPS; Sneaking around an asylum avoiding guards who are moving around on their own schedule, for example.
These features place the game at the top of the adventure crop, and well beyond the usual output of European adventure game studios. On a decent system, the engine is gorgeous, and the immersion that results is far superior to the traditional pre-rendered environs of a standard adventure title.
The only flaws in the title are those all-too-common in adventure titles. Some puzzles require bizarre leaps of logic to complete, you often wind up revisiting old locations looking for the one event required to move the game forward, etc. None of these are enough of an issue to avoid a recommendation, but they should be kept in mind by the prospective buyer. Have a walkthrough handy, several of which are out on the Net for the Googler to find.
The star here, however, is the story. The game will please fans of Holmes as much as it will those who have no idea about the detective but adore the Cthulhu mythos. Several clever nods to the history of Holmes show up in the game, and for mystery fans in general. At one point, a cute cameo by another great detective of literature and his "little gray cells" pops up, for example.
When it comes to the Lovecraft side of the tale, the writers took a genius path here. You see, you never hear the name Cthulhu clearly. After all, if Holmes had come across that blatant of a reference to the Old One, wouldn't he have continued tracking down the cult long before LeGrasse got to it? His exposure is limited, and we, as the player, are the only ones who completely understand what they are dealing with. By the end of the day, the human side of the horror is revealed, but we're left with a resolution that both satisfies and leaves enough unanswered that this foray in re-writing the mythos doesn't derail either the detective's history or that of Lovecraft and his Elder Gods.
Most importantly this, amazingly enough, is a budget title here in the US, making it a very small investment even for those who don't normally have an interest in adventure titles. For any fan of Lovecraft, I can definitely recommend the title as, if nothing else, an interactive new entry in the Cthulhu mythos.
4 out of 5
Discuss Sherlock Holmes: The Awakening in the Dread Central forums!